Israeli Forces Storm Aid Flotilla: A Socialist Response

Israeli Forces Storm Aid Flotilla: A Socialist Response

In the early hours of Monday morning Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla of aid ships which was attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza. While details are continuing to emerge it is believed that at least 19 of the activists on board the ships have been killed, with at least 20 more injured. 10 Israeli soldiers are also thought to have been injured.

While any socialist must condemn this violence and express solidarity for the family of those killed, this action raises urgent questions about how the Palestinian solidarity movement, including socialists, should express that support and solidarity.

The eight ships, which carried over 600 activists made up mostly of peace campaigners, including politicians, children and the elderly, was intercepted in international waters, at least 65km from Gaza. Israeli commandos stormed the lead ship Mavi Marmara, which sailed under a Turkish flag. It is unclear if the Israelis faced resistance, IDF sources have claimed some activists attempted to fight with ‘sharp objects and knives.’ (Update: Footage on the BBC and Al Jazerra reveals individual acts of resistance on board the ships, with organisers on board appealing for calm.)

Each of the eight ships were boarded, injured activists were flown to a hospital outside Tel Aviv for urgent treatment, while the fleet is being sailed to the northern Israeli port of Haifa where it will be impounded, and the activists will be immediately deported.

A Tragedy Exploited?

As soon as news of this tragedy broke it became inevitable that the airwaves would be filled with propaganda and spin from all sides as attempts are made to exploit the tragedy for political advantage.

From the Israeli side from the apparently omnipresent government spokesman Mark Regev was swift to state that the flotilla was an “armada of hate and violence”, while claiming the organisation has links to jihad movements with a history of terrorism and conducting smuggling operations.

While sources from the government, the IDF and Israeli media have differed in their details the theme has been the same: Israel was upholding the blockade against the terrorist organisation Hamas. The flotilla aimed to break the blockade, which therefore supports Hamas and therefore the IDF were within their legal rights to take action. The fact this violence happened in International waters has been ignored.

In contrast Hamas have also been quick to exploit the situation calling for all ‘Muslims to rise up against Israel’, while issuing similar inflammatory statements to heighten tensions. Clearly all socialists and progressives do not identify with such calls.  

Who is to Blame?

While the Israeli authorities should be condemned for the violence and should be held accountable it is clear that the organisers of the flotilla must also face stark questions about their role in this tragedy.

The naval blockade of Gaza is a military operation in an extremely dangerous area, so should the fleet of aid ships have included hundreds of activists, children, politicians and elderly campaigners? What constructive role could such people have played on this fleet? 

The question must be asked: Did the organisation want aid to reach Gaza, or did they want the aid to be seen to reach Gaza? Organisation spokesmen have already stated that the 10,000 tonnes of aid on board the flotilla was ‘a drop in the ocean’ of the aid needed in this humanitarian crisis zone, acknowledging that the fleet was a largely symbolic operation, an act of solidarity and defiance.

While such action is clearly well intended and commendable, it meant the project was either inevitably going to either fail, or result in violence. The Israeli authorities stated clearly, from the moment the flotilla left Turkey, that the naval forces would not allow the ships to pass and if they did attempt to break the blockade they would be intercepted. This warning was so clear that Turkish politicians, NGOs and humanitarian organisations, acknowledging this threat, urged the Israelis to show restraint.

If the organisation wished to truly break the blockade, then a hugely publicised effort with 8 ships filled with 600 peace activists was clearly not the way to achieve this. If the aim of the organisation was the get aid, no matter the quantity, into the Gaza strip, a clandestine smuggling operation, with no direct publicity, would have been a more sensible, if illegal, approach. Indeed groups of Egyptians and Palestinians, illegal and not, have been smuggling material into the strip through tunnels from the Egyptian border since the blockade began. 

If, as is more likely, the aim was to be a symbolic gesture of defiance, the organisation should have learnt from its previous efforts. The first three attempts to break the blockade, using one small boat, were successful. While the last three, using larger well publicised, convoys or fleets, had been turned back.

While the Israeli authorities are ultimately to blame for the deaths and injuries through their disproportionately violent response, the organisation must accept that sailing 600 peace activists, including children and the elderly, through a naval blockade in an active war zone was either reckless, negligent or naïve.

How should Socialists Show Solidarity? 

 For Socialists the position is clear, the working class, in both Palestine and Israel, is the only section of society able to end the blockade of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank and the Israel-Palestine crisis as a whole.

Firstly the crisis must be approached from the clear class perspective that a socialist should approach any other scenario. The Israeli – Palestine question can not, and must not, be seen as a conflict between “aggressor Israelis and victim Palestinians”, or “Terrorist Palestinians and Victim Israelis” and it certainly must not be seen as “Muslims against Jews”. The crisis is not as clear cut as that, it is a crisis where both the Israeli and Palestinian people are made to suffer due to a right-wing ruling class in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the corrupt Palestinian leadership of Fatah in the West Bank and the reactionary and violent extremists of Hamas in Gaza.

The Israeli leadership are responsible for grave war crimes, as seen during last years invasion of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. During both conflicts the Israeli army (IDF) attacked civilian targets causing huge loss of life.

The blockade of Gaza has created a humanitarian crisis, as has the partition wall built through the West Bank. Both actions must be recognised as war crimes, yet both are crimes of the leadership, not the Israeli people. In the United Kingdom we know that governments act against the wishes of the people, in 2003 2 million people marched against the invasion of Iraq, yet the Blair government took the country to war. In Israel there is an anti-war movement, the people are not war hungry, the IDF is a conscript army, and yet the war continues.

In the West Bank Fatah, the founders of the PLO, have become a corrupt clique of a party, which is why they lost their mandate to govern in the Gaza strip. In Gaza the Islamist Hamas government is an ultra-right wing militia group who openly target Israeli civilians and actively suppress genuine Palestinian democracy in the Gaza strip.

Clearly Socialists can not support any of these groups, but must support the Israeli and Palestinian working class, union movements and Socialist organisations. Israel is one of the only nations in the Middle East where workers can organise trade unions and political parties openly without police brutality and suppression. Indeed the Mavak socialist party has organised anti-war campaigns linking up Israeli and Palestinian workers, and it is only initiatives such as these which can end the crisis.

For a Socialist Middle East

Socialists, and the Palestinian solidarity movement as a whole, must reject the rhetoric of either leadership and must not be duped into supporting a ‘national side’, but must support the people in both countries. We must support the building of a strong Israeli and Palestinian trade union movement, and call for the creation of a genuine mass workers party, which will unite the people of both Israel and Palestine to replace the corrupt, aggressive leaderships with a genuinely democratic socialist state.

In the short term the call for two states, with the working class at the helm, is the only solution. As the right to self determination is a key right for socialists the long term solution can be two states – a Socialist Israel and a Socialist Palestine, in a wider Socialist Federation of the Middle East. 

As this latest tragedy, and its political ramifications, are watched around the world, it is imperative that Socialists and progressives are not drawn in by the propaganda of either side, but maintain a principled socialist position, pointing to a genuine alternative and a real solution to this sixty year crisis.

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